Saturday, November 28, 2009

Giving Thanks

It is not often that we get to spend Thanksgiving with my family out in the Valley. We typically opt for the bigger Christmas holiday to make that trip and plan our huge family holiday meal. This year, the missus and I will be abroad for Christmas (more on that later) and wanted to spend at least one of the holidays around my parents' dinner table.

Typically, we would be cooking for a crowd of a dozen or more, but this year was just us; my parents, sister, the missus and I. Believe me when I tell you we had plenty of food to go around. And around. And around. You get the idea. Definitely something to be thankful for. A big step for us was ordering a free-range turkey from Mary's Turkeys, a local farm that makes free-range birds available by special order through their website and local markets. Another departure for us was choosing to try brining the turkey this year instead of just oven-roasting it. When we arrived Wednesday night after battling holiday traffic on the I-5, my dad had the bird nestled comfortably in a cooler packed with bags of ice and a dark aromatic brine.

We stuck to mostly traditional Thanksgiving staples like cornbread stuffing, biscuits, cranberry relish, deviled eggs prepared with care by my sister, and of course mashed potatoes and gravy. Really, what holiday is complete without gravy?  And since we had such a stockpile of fresh veggies to play with, we threw together a mix of roasted vegetables with herbs and balsamic vinegar.  The simplest things prepared with the least amount of fuss always turn out to be the best.  For desert, instead of the traditional home-baked pie, we brought a treat up from San Francisco to share with everyone, a bread pudding with whiskey sauce from Cajun Pacific.  After dinner, we even threw the turkey carcass into a pot of water with some chopped vegetables and made a big, beautiful bubbling pot of stock, some of which turned into a fantastic and simple leftover turkey soup two days later.

Our family has started to get pretty good at putting on a holiday meal.  We figure out a menu, work out what is going to be in season and what local farm we should buy our ingredients from.  Like this year, we use the bounty of our CSA subscription and of course my mother's prolific garden to prepare our feasts.  Together, we have become quite the culinary team.  

While all of the food is wonderful, and brings us together as a family as we dance around each other chopping and peeling and boiling, the meal isn't the only thing that makes these days special.  It's going out to the garden and picking bushels of vegetables as a family.  It's sitting around the kitchen table after dinner, playing a traditional game of Scrabble.  And it's being there, with our family, talking and laughing, finding out what each is looking forward to, what we are struggling with.  (Oh, and it's also giving my sister a hard time about her new boyfriend.)  It's being thankful for the gifts that we have been given, and the people we have to share them with.

I hope everyone had a chance to give thanks with your families and friends, and that you all ate very, very well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Persimmon Bread

With all of the Foodbuzz blogger festivities behind us, it is due time for some actual food, don't you think? I am sure all of the coverage of the blogger festival by myself and the multitude of other foodies has been more than enough to make you jealous, and maybe even gotten you thinking about starting your own food blog. Fair enough, you deserve a good recipe, something to fill your kitchen with delicious aromas. You've waiting long enough.

As we roll through Fall onto the threshold of Winter, the variety of fruits and vegetables coming in our CSA box is changing, and bringing new challenges to the Tiny Kitchen. Among the vibrant pile of bock choi, beets, sweet potatoes and pomegranates, came a bag of bright, plump Fuyu Persimmons. Once I got past the initial forehead-wrinkling over what I could possibly do with these beauties, unsure if they required some ancient alchemy to even be edible, I figured out that I had the variety that could be rinsed and eaten like an apple.

Still, I actually wanted to make something with them, so I scoured the interwebs for a persimmon bread recipe that was relatively simple and painless, and stumbled onto this recipe from the Fat free Vegan blog. I admit that I probably had the wrong variety of persimmon for this recipe, as the flesh of the fruit should be from the mushy Hachiya type and not the firm Fuyu type, but I made it work. I peeled the persimmons, chopped them into quarters and threw them into the food processor for a few seconds to turn them into a pulp. Keep in mind this is a vegan recipe, and as it does not contain dairy or eggs, it is not as moist as other quick breads. With all of that said, here's what to do:

1 1/4 cups persimmon, mashed pulp
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons canola oil or unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup agave nectar (or substitute 1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar and 2 tbsp. water)
2 cups whole wheat flour1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup raisins or dried apricots, chopped (may use up to 1/2 cup)
(I used apricots, because, well, I don't like raisins.)
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional--may use up to 1/2 cup)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, spray a loaf pan with nonstick spray.

In a small bowl, combine the persimmon, lemon juice, applesauce and agave nectar. In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients, except for the apricots and walnuts. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring until the flour is just moist, do not over mix. Fold in the apricots and walnuts, if desired.

Pour mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean, about 40 - 50 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. You can allow to cool completely before serving, or wrap in plastic and store in the refrigerator.

The bread is good warm, but really shines if given the chance to cool completely before serving. Better yet, let it chill overnight as it tastes even better the next day. This loaf is dense and filling, but lightly sweet in just the right way. This came in handy as a mid-morning workday snack, or great after dinner drizzled with a little honey.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Foodbuzz Blogger Festival, Day 2 & Farewell Brunch

Saturday morning, with the sun shining brightly over The City, our army of food bloggers descended on the Hotel Vitale and Ferry Building Farmers Market, Foodbuzz name badges securely hung from our necks. To start the morning, a small group of us sat down for a discussion on sustainable farming with chef Paul Arenstam of the Americano and Brian Kenney of Hearst Ranch, the farming/ranching arm of the Hearst media corporation. Hearst Ranch humanely raises grass fed livestock in the central coast of California and distributes their high-quality meats around the country.
According to Kenney, the difficulty of raising grass fed, sustainably farmed livestock is finding consumers willing to pay the higher price for the higher quality product. Luckily, chefs like Arenstam and others are looking for humanely raised alternatives to feed lot livestock that take into account respect for the animal, the environment, and the quality of the meat.

While others gathered for olive oil or cheese tastings, the rest of us were left to explore the Ferry Building and grab a quick bite to eat before the taste pavillions at the Metreon. With a little time to kill, it was a beautiful day to lounge on a bench in Yerba Buena Gardens and enjoy some people watching.Before I knew it, it was high time to get upstairs to the Metreon City View level for the taste pavilions, a hall full of food, beer and wine artisans eager to share their creations, and their stories, with all of us. There was a huge array of things to sip and nibble on, so I'll share some of my highlights, guided mostly by what I was able to get a good picture of.

Here we have the Kerrigold table, with some of the richest butter and most flavorful cheeses you will ever have the chance to enjoy. I am not ashamed to say I visited this table more than once.
The crowd raved about this demure little ceviche cup, served by Fuego Restaurant from Long Beach. These little guys were amazing; two perfect bites of bright, salty freshness in a stylish shot glass.These tasty little bites came from the kitchen of Aquarius out of Santa Cruz. Little pastry cups filled with deliciousness (although I am having difficulty remembering exactly what.)

One of the major participants of the Taste Pavilions was Foodzie, a great website for producers of artisan foods, from snacks, sauces, preserves, and amazing chocolates. These beautiful little chocolates with smoked sea salt are from Neococoa, a new San Francisco chocolatier.

After nibbling on a plethora of tasty bites, sipping beer from Rogue, Magnolia, and 21st Amendment Brewery, I was stuffed and a little fuzzy from all of the beer. The kids at Foodbuzz, working their tails off all afternoon, were rockstars and could not have put on a better event. Alas, after a long day of stuffing my face with some of the tastiest delights the food world has to offer, it was time to head home for a quick nap in preparation for the evening's Outstanding In The Field dinner.

The culmination of the entire 1st Annual Blogger Festival was the dinner Saturday night, held at the peculiar location of the Greenleaf Produce warehouse deep in the Bayview district of San Francisco. The location proved to be the perfect spot for this gathering, making it feel like an illicit and secretive gourmet meal for about 250 people. On the way to the venue, our bus filled with hungry bloggers got lost in the heart of Hunter's Point, the driver carefully negotiating the narrow streets and consulting iphone directions that eventually got us to the right spot.

The menu for the Outstanding In The Field dinner was created by celebrated San Francisco restaurant Namu, and prepared by Chef Dennis Lee's staff in this impromptu kitchen stretched over banquet tables and mobile grills. Below you can see the prep and staging area for the mushroom soup we would be enjoying as our first course.

The concept behind Outstanding In The Field dinners is to bring people together, usually to a farm, to celebrate the bounty of sustainable, local food together along a single, artfully designed table. Our table, draped in simple white cloth, snaked through the racks and rooms of Greenleaf to stunning effect.
Keep in mind, we were dining in a working produce warehouse, stacked high with pallets and crates of fruits and vegetables ready to be loaded on a truck and shipped out the moment we had cleaned our plates. Playing the gracious hosts, Greenleaf even gave us a magnificent centerpiece piled high with fresh fruits and veggies for us bloggers to use as camera fodder.

This steaming bowl of soup with maitake, shimeji, and enoki mushrooms started the dinner, a warm and earthy first dish.  Beyond this single dish, everything was served family style, and we were encouraged to help serve each other, and we certainly did not hesitate.  After the required photo ops, of course.

Next up was Udon with grilled calamari in a browned butter ponzu reduction, cucumber, kaiware, frisee and yellow pear tomato with chojang and sesame vinaigrette.  Quite the mouthful to say, but even better to eat.

Next on the menu was a sea trout baked with fried garlic and Japanese curry powder, served with mushroom risotto with crispy maitake mushrooms.  These dishes were some of what I love best about food; fresh, quality ingredients served simply enough to be able to tell their own story.  The risotto was fantastic, and the trout was cooked just enough to be tender; slightly salty and fresh.

The dish everyone couldn't stop talking about was the roasted brussels sprouts with ponzu fried garlic, guanciale and bonito flakes.  The boring, bland, stinky brussels sprouts of your childhood have found a new way to live.  Served next to soy braised beef cheeks and oxtails, baby carrots and fingerling potatoes, these two dishes hit it out of the park.

The dinner was incredible; perfectly executed by everyone involved. As we sat along the sweeping table, drinking Bonny Doon wines, laughing together and talking about everything we had experience at the festival, we had become one big family. Everyone seemed perfectly at home with each other, like we had known one another for years.

We capped off the evening with the 1st annual Foodbuzz Blogger Awards, served with a sweet desert wine from Bonny Doon. Alas, the Tiny Kitchen wasn't nominated this year. Maybe next year I'll have to step up my game and get this modest little blog in shape. For now, I am still enjoying the warm glow (and piles of swag) from this amazing weekend of foodie bonding at it's finest.
Braving another sunny day in San Francisco after a long night of revelry, we gathered one final time Sunday morning for the farewell brunch at Lulu restaurant.  Complete with a bloody mary bar, the brunch was hosted by Nature's Pride bread and featured Kerrygold cheeses and butter and pears from Frog Hollow Farm.  From frittata with aged cheddar to crouque monsieurs with smoked ham and truffle mustard to just good old plain bacon, this meal was a delicious way to wrap up the weekend.  Still, it had been a long weekend of perpetual indulgence, and eventually it was time to head back home for a quiet Sunday at home.

The 1st Annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival was truly the start of something great; Foodbuzz didn't over look a single detail when planning the whole weekend.  As many times as I have said it before, thanks Foodbuzz for a perfect foodie weekend.  And thanks to all of my new foodie friends, it was great getting to know you and I can't wait to see what is in store for next year.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Foodbuzz Blogger Festival, Day 1

What a weekend. Friday kicked off the 1st Annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival, an event for all of us food-crazy bloggers to get together and share amazing food, drink, and conversation. Over 200 food bloggers came to town this weekend from across the country and even around the world to enjoy our fair city. Luckily, Lady San Francisco kept the clouds away and the lights glittering bright for our guests to enjoy.

The festival kicked off on the terrace of the Hotel Vitale, just across the wide lanes of the Embarcadero, providing us with quite a view.

As the temperature dropped and bloggers found their way up to the plush suite and terrace of the hotel, we packed together under heat lamps sipping Skyy vodka cocktails and Speakeasy ales making new friends as we stood in line for a small bite or a fresh drink. Really, it was the best bar line in The City that night; no shoving or arguing, just folks getting acquainted and asking "so what blog do you write?"

Soon, it was off to the Ferry Building to enjoy some of the best street food San Francisco has to offer. Trucks lined the stalls of the Ferry Building's north arcade space to share their creations as we continued meeting new friends while gushing over each bite. The roving trays of chicharrones from 4505 Meats were a huge hit.

Alive raw restaurant served wafers topped with avocado, tomato and basil and an amazing raw cheesecake, almost just as good as the real thing.
Cupcakes are all the rage in the city right now, and one of the best in town is Mission Minis. These little guys are a perfect bite size, topped with sweet butter cream frosting, and are moist and delicious.
The hit of the night for most everyone came from Roli Roti and their porchetta sandwich, crispy skin together with perfectly rotisserie roasted pork belly and pork loin in a sourdough bun mopped in the roasting juices. (No good pictures of this one, sadly. I was too busy filling my belly with its porky goodness.) Topped with salt and chopped parsley, these sandwiches were way too good to miss.

I have a weakness for pizza, and when we're talking about crispy, clay-oven style pizza, it's hard for me to focus on just about anything else. The folks at Pizza Politana and their brilliant mobile clay oven turn out some of the best hand-tossed pizza in The City. These beauties here were being snatched up just as quickly as they came out of the oven.

This first night of revelry around The City's best street food left nothing to be desired, and not enough hands to take all the pictures it deserved. And while I was to busy stuffing my face to take enough good pictures, all of the vendors deserve a mention for a fantastic showing. The whole arcade was lined with amazing eats, from the simple brilliance of Tacolicious, the quick to disappear pies from the SF Pie Truck, Strauss Family Creamery ice cream, Spencer on the go, San Francisco's only mobile French restaurant, and of course the sudsy libations of Thirsty Bear Brewing Company. Am I missing someone? I probably am. So much food coming at you from all sides, it's easy to lose track.

But wait, there's more! Friday was just the start of what would become an epic food blogger weekend. Stay tuned for recaps of days 2 & 3, and our brilliant Outstanding In The Field dinner at the Greenleaf Produce Warehouse.

For even more on Friday night's festivities, check out these fellow bloggers: Food Wishes, Oldways Table, Eat, Live, Travel, Write, What's Gaby Cooking?, Let Me Eat Cake, CBSOP, and many, many more.